Sunday, May 23, 2010

Traditional Spiritual Lineage is not right for Me because I'm Female.

Just as my female body contains a metaphor for creating new life, so also does my existence in the realm of spiritual pursuits require a creative act.

A benefit of yoga in the marketplace is that there are plenty of women leading the way; we are used to seeing images of beautiful women in advertisements so there is an ongoing potential for commercial success for svelte females in yoga.

But I recoil in shame when I consider what is coming across to consumers: perhaps that yoga cultivates commercially acceptable beauty, or that yoga is for physical fitness. Could it be that yoga is here to help us get laid? Come on... When commercial yoga panders to our insecurities, just like any other product for sale, doesn't that cheapen the potential? Or doesn't that cheapen our estimation of what we, as yoga teachers or yoga businesses offer?

As I read and study about traditional yoga I find myself filtering and editing as I read to try to include myself in texts that were written for male seekers. And I've done a pretty good job, having pushed through countless hours of reading about men in yoga. And I love men in yoga... But when it comes to conceptualizing a vision of my yoga path, the words that were intended for male seekers from earlier generations do not always hit home for me as a female yogi practicing and living in today's world.

And I've heard that there are a handful of obscure examples of traditional yoga that honor women. But, I really haven't seen any that I can identify with.

We don't even have a tradition here in the States, what we have is a marketplace, and what this requires of us as consumers is personal responsibility. Just like it's time for us to take responsibility for the oil we use, it's also time for us to take responsibility for the quality of our hearts and minds.

Maybe it's me. Maybe I struggle with being a female yogi who is not always sure where she really fits in. Maybe I should try to be thin and beautiful and perfect. Maybe you should buy into my yoga because you love my body.

This is what bothers me.

Yoga is about a union between consciousness and form, or the "inner" and "outer" worlds. If popular yoga is too focused on physical feminine beauty, are we ever going to break through to an authentic experience of spiritual depth? Are we ever going to pursue beyond our obsession with physical form and youthful beauty? Right now our "yoga" in most places seems to be right in line with commercial norms.

Yoga tradition intersects with the modern marketplace. And I think that we enter fantasyland when we try to ignore that. Even when someone has learned from a traditional source, what a teacher brings to his or her classes is what they know. It is always their account of that tradition or lineage, so teachers are actually creating as they are teaching.

But, our yoga does inspire questions such as mine, and perhaps that's enough for now. And maybe yoga has arrived in the marketplace at this time to remind us that we are more than consumers. We are human beings with hearts and spirituality, and we can be responsible for ensuring that our world can remain inhabitable and joyful, as well as profitable.

*simul-posted at Elephant Journal*


Bob Weisenberg said...

Good questions all, Brooks.

I don't have any pat answers, but I can tell you how I approach these issues.

I believe that spiritual truths are spiritual truths, regardless of the age and culture they come from. So the only real solution to gender bias in the Gita is to just ignore it. It can't be justified or rationalized. It just needs to be ignored in order to get at the deeper meaning of the text, which, in any case, soundly contradicts bias of any sort anyway!

As you probably know, our Gita Talk translator, Stephen Mitchell wrote about this problem in his introduction on p. 34-5

I hope that women who read these pages will forgive this particular limitation of the Gita's consciousness and realize that, with its spirit if not always with its words, it is pointing all of us to the essential truth.

As for the commercialization of Yoga and the "lineage system", well, my solution to that is to go directly back to the big three ancient Yoga texts--The Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, and the Yoga Sutra. I skip the middlemen altogether. With a little bit of commentary these texts speak directly to my heart and soul.

Everthing that's important to me about Yoga is there except asana, which is best learned from teachers and from modern masterpieces like Kripalu Yoga: A Guide to Practice On and Off the Mat

Isn't it exciting to see hundred of people reading and discussing the original Yoga text and applying it to their lives at Gita Talk?

As you know, I'm a Yoga universalist. I embrace Yoga in all its forms for their own sake and because they draw people like me into the more spiritual aspects of Yoga. (I never would have gotten into Yoga at all if it hadn't been offered at my tennis club for flexibility training!)

But while I still do asana every day, my personal practice centers more and more around applying the ancient Yoga texts, as they speak directly to me, to my everyday life and consciousness. That's the way I deal with all the noise in the vibrant Yoga world of today.

Thanks again for a great blog.

Bob Weisenberg

YogaforCynics said...

Traditional spiritual lineage is not right for me because, though I'm male...well, there are lots and lots of reasons. Overall, I think the idea that "traditional=good" is about as valid as "new=good" (and it's strange that both seem to have so much currency in our society; people rush out to buy the new, but have this strange reverence for the traditional, in both cases often not thinking very much about whether either is actually desirable or worthy of reverence...).

Linda-Sama said...

I commented on EJ....

Bob Weisenberg said...

Good point, YogaforC

A Green Spell said...

Beautifully stated.

Linda-Sama said...

"people rush out to buy the new"

I don't even own an IPod....;)

Frenzy36 said...

Ah how I hate labels this yoga that yoga etc. I eat heathy - thats good enough for me I am not going to check what I eat against someone's list to see "what I am"

As far as yoga, the commercial & social aspect ... that all washes out. Any yoga makes the person better for it. Those that want to learn more will at their own pace, probably guided by their teachers and associates.

The world needs more yoga, bring em in and let the chips fall where they may.

Bob Weisenberg said...

I'm with you, Frenzy36.

Anahita said...

Seems like everyone has touched upon anything I would have said regarding the consumerist aspect of yoga in the US so I'll comment as a budding female yogini who empathizes with the outer female form vs. inner spiritual quest that yoga offers us.

Well, basically...I totally agree with you! I love yoga for how it makes me feel and what it teaches me about myself. In fact, I've been tempted for some time to blog about the "popular notion" of what it means to "do yoga". I think I partly need to let go of the idea that "people out there" will resonate with my idea of what yoga is...i.e. the twin exercise of pilates?! :)

Grace said...

This has been a particular frustration of mine: finding my place within yoga as a woman. This is a generalization, but it seems there are two types of yoga for us ladies to "buy into," the fitness-centered yoga-butt/abs ideal, or the "I am goddess, every woman is a goddess," kind of thing. I'll admit that I like the whole goddess thing, but it can also get pretty weird, and sometimes seems just as superfical. And guess what, the goddess is also usually portrayed as beautiful. Meh, I'm rambling and probably not making any sense.

I'm off to go read all your links in this post.

Unknown said...

Grace, your comment makes total sense to me!

Emma said...

grace-- i think you can both "be a goddess" and find yoga as a way to find physical strength. and maybe there is some gray in there, too.

lately, in general, ive been thinking about how the postures were all designed by men, and how they may not be working for my hip-y, bust-y body. like, dammit, im taking a wider stance in warrior 1. and, maybe, from the physical, more thoughts like yours will follow.